What Would Harvey Milk Say About President Clinton's Speech at the Manchester Hyatt?

This Sunday, President Clinton is scheduled to give a paid speech at the Manchester Hyatt in San Diego to the annual convention of a major political action committee, the International Franchise Association.

To give this speech, President Clinton will have to violate a union boycott and labor dispute - the workers at the hotel lack job security and the housekeepers face onerous workloads. He will also offend gay and lesbian Americans, including myself - the owner of the hotel, Doug Manchester, contributed $125,000 in early seed money to the Proposition 8 campaign. President Clinton should move this speech.

The Manchester Hyatt Boycott has been on since early July, when a coalition of the gay community and labor movement in San Diego announced its call. Since then, the boycott has been remarkably successful in mobilizing hotel guests and large conventions to support marriage equality and economic justice through their choices as consumers. In a local business paper, Hyatt officials admitted that the boycott has cost the hotel $2.4 million. The real cost is likely much higher. Certainly, the Boycott's implications are deeper.

For me the success of the Manchester Hyatt Boycott has been very personal. I worked with Harvey Milk in the 1970s to boycott Coors Beer over the company's anti-gay hiring policies and belligerent stance in contract negotiations towards their workers. It was challenging for me, a young, gay, San Francisco activist, to build bridges with heterosexuals, let alone Teamsters. But we succeeded. As far as I know, the Coors Beer Boycott was the first ever coalition between the gay rights movement and labor unions. To this day, you would be hard pressed to find Coors beer in any gay bar in America. As for me, the Coors Beer Boycott taught me an unforgettable lesson about the power of coalitions in the struggle for equality. That lesson is being replicated today in the successful Manchester Hyatt Boycott in San Diego.

The Manchester Hyatt Boycott is following in Harvey Milk's footsteps by building the bridges necessary to win real equality for gays and lesbians in the state of California and at the Federal level, where we are still denied many fundamental rights such as full Social Security and Veterans' benefits. To win those rights, we are going to need to build alliances with labor and its constituencies: low income workers, immigrants and Latinos. As November's election results clearly showed, we cannot do it alone.

By violating the Manchester Hyatt Boycott, President Clinton will be doing more than just dishonoring the hard work of labor unions and gay activists, he will be casting aside the groundwork we are laying for a broad based, national coalition for equal rights as well as the immediate tasks of achieving marriage equality in California and economic justice for the put upon workers at the hotel.

I think President Clinton should move his speech to honor the boycott. If he doesn't, he will see me, and likely many others, this Sunday on the sidewalk in front of the Manchester Hyatt. That is exactly where Harvey Milk would want me to be.